Syrian embassy in Doha ceases passport extensions

Syrian expatriates in the Gulf are disappointed as their passports expire and their options disappear.

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ABU DHABI // Syrian expatriates whose passports have expired have been left in limbo after their embassy in Qatar scrapped its plan to grant extensions.

The embassy in Doha, run by the Syrian National Coalition, which is opposed to the regime of president Bashar Al Assad, said in January it would issue extensions of two to four years.

The scheme was to have been open first to Syrians in Qatar before being extended to expatriates in other countries. The news was welcomed by Syrians in the UAE, some of whom have exhausted all other avenues to renew their passports.

However, the embassy has now reversed its decision. A spokesman said the decision was made by the SNC only a few days after the original announcement.

The embassy was forced to return 36 passports it received on the first day of the scheme, and turn away scores of disappointed applicants.

“As soon as we started receiving passports, the coalition asked us to stop everything until they review the legality of the passport extensions,” the spokesman said.

“Right now it is being studied by the coalition.”

He said the embassy was surprised by the decision because it had not received any objections during the planning stage. The extensions were printed to international standards.

“We communicated regularly before then. Never was there any objection,” the spokesman said. “We spoke to all embassies [of countries that recognise the SNC]; the coalition was aware of all this.”

He said a possible reason for the sudden objection was new leadership. In January, Khaled Khoja was elected SNC leader.

“The lack of legal passports is a crisis for Syrians around the world,” the spokesman said. “Syrians are gravely disappointed by the news. This was their only hope.”

A spokesman for the SNC said: “The decision to issue passport extensions from the Syrian National Coalition embassy in Qatar has not been approved yet by the political committee. As long as there is no official statement from the coalition regarding this topic, that remains the case.”

osalem@thenational.ae